Tuesday, August 14, 2012

To ABC Or Not To ABC

A couple of years ago, Gineth and I were on our annual Colorado climbing vacation and hitting our first peak of the Sangre de Cristo range - Mt. Lindsey. There, we met a very talented, very fit young climber whose mother was being good enough to chauffeur him around Colorado so he could climb all the 14ers, and he was doing so in a bang-up time. We met his mom at the trailhead as we waited for him to return from the peak - we had passed him on our way down as he was going up (quickly) and in little time as we chatted with his mom he returned, having bagged the Lindsey summit in easily half the time it took us. They were a really friendly family and we continued to talk about 14ers with them for some time. As we were talking about the Sangres - eventually, the subject of Culebra Peak came up. He a tiny bit pretentiously told us he was “Doing the ABC list”.

“The ABC List?” I asked, thinking that maybe this was some fundamental list that excluded or included peaks with less than 300 feet of prominence or something.

“All But Culebra” he declared to me full of pride.

There’s a bit of a philosophical debate amongst some people who do the Colorado 14ers about Culebra Peak. Access to Culebra Peak and the peak itself, is on privately owned land. The owners of the ranch that it resides on charge a fee (as of now, 2012) of $100 per person to access and climb the peak. And so, the lines of the debate fall upon whether it is acceptable or not to pay this “bounty” to climb the peak, or if as a matter of principle the mountain should be bypassed due to this “outrageous” price and limit set upon the peak.

For our own climb of Culebra, much more planning had to be undertaken than any other ordinary class 2 climb would have. I saw a thread on 14ers.com that said the Cielo Vista Ranch - the owners - were starting to take reservations for Culebra climbs back in May. We usually had been visiting Colorado around September, to avoid thunderstorm danger, but due to wanting to bag Culebra and also due to the fact that we were hit with an out of season snowstorm last year, we planned to go earlier this year, the last weekend of July and first week of August. The Ranch is only open on certain days, and only permits so many climbers to enter on those days. So it was imperative for our trip that this arrangement was made first, before we planned any other climbs. After a couple of weeks of busy signals and reaching an answering machine, I was finally able to get ahold of them and make our reservation. They e-mailed us the waiver forms and we were ready to go. I would note that the number in Roach’s 14er guide (I have the 3rd edition published in 2011) was not the current and correct number. That made me wonder about how often the ranch might change hands, and how tenuous it may be for future climbing if we did not do it right now.

You see, obviously I am of the belief that to truly climb all the Fourteeners in Colorado one has to climb ALL THE FOURTEENERS IN COLORADO. I’m really glad no other mountains we have climbed in Colorado have been privately owned or charged a fee. We climbed Mt. Bross, a mountain whose summit is now closed to the public, back on our first Colorado climb, the Decalibron, before we even knew about any controversy. So we get to avoid that facet of the argument. It really doesn’t bother me too much to pay $100 to climb one. As long as it’s just one. So we decided to check it off our list.

So we made the reservation and planned our trip around it. We showed up the Sunday morning of our climb (July 29th) somewhere just after 5:30 am. I had received specific instructions from the ranch that we were to be there promptly at 6am, so I did not want to take any chances. There were about 5 or 6 4X4’s parked in front of us, and a few people with tents camping out in front of us. As we waited for them to open the gate to enter the ranch, a few more trucks pulled up behind us. Since we had slept in a hotel in Alamosa, and headed out here early in the morning, we closed our eyes a few seconds and patiently accepted the fact that we could not start the climb on our own terms - we now were on someone else’s clock. 

Finally we saw movement ahead, and noticed a young man on an ATV had showed up and was checking off a list as the folks moved through the gate. We waited our turn and told him our names, and he told us to just follow everyone else up to the ranch headquarters. The road was dirt but in good condition, and I didn’t want to drive too slow as to make all the Colorado license plates folks think negatively about us California plated trucks. We followed everyone up to the main quarters and parked alongside everyone else. Everyone was filing inside the main house there, and so we knew this must be the place to pay our money. We got in line and paid our money, and gave them our waiver forms. We were told to wait for final instructions before we could go to the trailhead. Everyone working there was very professional and there were no tense feelings whatsoever. Of course, everyone there was like us - maybe not thrilled to pay the $100, but accepting of the fact that this is what had to be done.

After a briefing from the ranch foreman on the rules of the ranch, everyone was ready to drive up to the trailhead. I guessed there were between 25-30 people, and about 12 or so 4X4’s. Pretty orderly, we returned to our vehicles and started driving up to the trailhead. The road was a little rough, but not typical Colorado four wheel drive rough. But it was very steep, and the Colorado trucks in front of me and behind me dictated that I had to drive at a pretty quick speed, at least faster than I’m used to driving up such roads. When we reached the crossroad known as
Four Way, we pulled over to ensure ourselves of a 3,000’ climb. Many of the others continued up the road to the upper trailhead, as the road is easily passable for another mile and a few hundred feet of gain. It certainly was a different experience than any other 14er we’ve been on - everyone basically starting all at the same time. Since we were going for the 3,000’ criteria, we started out slightly behind most.

Climbing up the green untrailed slopes of Culebra

Culebra does not have traditional trails. As we left the road, we followed a scant old road mostly overgrown with weeds and wildflowers. Part of the ranch’s creed is to keep the mountain in a natural state, and this too makes it a unique climb. I was getting my shoes a little wet, tromping through the brush, but I have to admit it was rather neat.

By the time we reached the ridge (this is considered the “standard” route) we had caught up pretty much with everyone else who had opted for the upper trailhead. People spread out fairly orderly though. The clouds were moving in and coming up against the dramatic cliff that falls off from the ridge, somewhat obscuring our views but providing a refreshing backdrop to the climb. 

We walked for a while and I spotted what I thought to be the summit. Turns out it wasn’t. The climb up Culebra is a little deceiving, in some ways due to one’s proclivity to underestimate the climb. By most accounts, the climb is rated a Class 2, and you just don’t go into thinking that you are actually going to have to climb up this mountain. It comes up and surprises you that you are still climbing a 14er, and there is nothing “easy” about that.

We reached the bottom of what I thought was the summit. I saw another climber head around traversing along the side. Why would he do that? He’s just lengthening his climb, I thought. Well, after a little low class scrambling I soon found out. This was only the false summit (does every mountain have to have one of these?) and there was still a good piece to go to get to (what I hoped would be) the actual summit.

The green slopes leading to the actual Culebra summit
But it was a pleasant walk. Very rarely does one walk up to the summit of a Colorado 14er by crossing a beautiful green meadow, but that’s exactly what happens on Culebra. When we finally topped out, the mood on the summit was very relaxed and mellow. Everyone there - and there where quite a few again as the climbers are somewhat bunched up - was just in a happy and good mood. Much like some of the first easier 14ers we ever did, there was much time for photos and snacks and of course, the ever-present marmot watching. One brave little guy seemed intent on getting into another climbers pack, and I had to do my best to shoo him away, lest he get the goodies inside. 

We took a different route on the way down, as recommended by the Ranch as to not disturb the sanctity of the mountain’s semi-pristine state. It was a in fact a much easier and shorter way down, and we wondered if we should have even taken this route on the way up. But no matter, our climb was over and we both concluded it was a fine warm-up for the climbs we had ahead of us, in this the first climb of our annual Colorado climbing vacation.

When all is said and done, I didn’t mind paying the “bounty” to climb Culebra. It was really a pretty climb, and we had a strange sort of bond with the folks we met on the route. All the ranch folks were courteous and professional. It’s definitely a unique Colorado 14er experience. I’m glad no other 14ers charge to climb them, because we probably wouldn’t want to pay that much to climb another easy hike, but on it’s own Culebra is fine by me. We are going to climb all the 14ers in Colorado. There will be no asterisks.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Ethics of the Ascent

Probably a cyclist would be more qualified to write about his, but it’s something that has been on my mind quite a bit for a little while now. We can easily say that Performance Enhancing Drugs - PEDs - are taboo in professional sports. We do not want the athletes we cheer for to be “cheating” by injecting some kind of human engineered substance, of which origin we may or may not know. Baseball players have soiled the precious “record books” that baseball fans supposedly hold so dear. Lance Armstrong won 7 straight Tour De France’s, and that is just impossible without pharmaceutical help - allegedly - and now goes through what seems like annual investigations to get to the bottom of a sport nobody in the USA cared about even before he retired. The US government has spent millions on convicting Barry Bonds (on one count - obstruction - essentially a technicality), failing to convict Roger Clemens, and now up to bat, Armstrong. A huge and utter waste of taxpayers money, to be sure, but yet somehow our politicians feel that it is a necessary expense to defend “the honor” of sport. Or something like that...

Well, what about mountain climbing? People might say “why would anyone cheat at mountain climbing?” Mountaineering by nature is not an organized sport. Yet, for the elite mountaineer, there is money and a career to be had climbing mountains. The more summits one can accumulate, and the method in which those summits are achieved (i.e. - without oxygen, speed ascents, etc) all factor into the reputation and marketability the best of the best have when it comes to sponsorships and endorsements. As for the weekend warrior type climbers, I’ll address that after we take a closer look at those who might be referred to as “professional” climbers.

The main drug that seems to be in question as far as Lance Armstrong and cycling world is concerned is EPO, or Erythropoietin, a hormone that controls red blood cell production. One thing that piqued my interest in this subject, is that during hypoxic stress - that is times when the body is oxygen-starved - natural in the body production of EPO may increase 1000X normal. Obviously, when one climbs to extremely high altitudes, the amount of oxygen available to the body decreases significantly. Since climbing well with a lower amount of oxygen in the blood is dependent on the body’s oxygen delivery system to the muscles, it stands to reason that using such an enhancer would improve a user’s endurance capacity at high altitudes. Now, I’ve read cyclists dismiss this idea that a mountaineer would use such an advantage, but their reasons for doing so (no money in climbing, no competition) don’t really ring true to me. There is a health risk with practicing this kind of doping, especially by a high altitude mountaineer, but just like cheating in cycling there have to be those who will make the trade-off. Also, EPO just happens to be the most known type of blood doping at this time. Who’s to say some scientists somewhere haven’t come up with the next new thing, and are using athletes (and climbers) to carry out their experiments? Does that seem far-fetched? Hey, I cheered when Mark McGwire hit home run #62 also. Since there is no organized competition in mountaineering, there is no institution that might administer and require testing. It’s basically a free-for-all, use at your own risk.

And using drugs while mountaineering is by no means a foreign idea. In fact, everyone who goes on an expedition to a mountain of higher than normal altitude should be bringing something with them. Even the big guide companies will ask you to see your doctor before and get a prescription for diamox and sometimes dexamethasone - drugs which help with complications that can develop in hypoxic (mountains) environments. So where exactly can the line between ethical and non-ethical performance enhancers be drawn? If I take diamox trying to climb Aconcagua am I as much of a cheater as Barry Bonds was? What about steroids and HGH? They help you get stronger and recover more quickly. Why not for the mountain climber who needs to A. Be strong and B. recover quickly? What is there to discourage a top level mountaineer from enhancing his abilities by whatever means he cares to? To just dismiss mountaineering as a non-professional sport is doing an amateurish investigation of the subject.

I’ve noticed the biggest new fad in high altitude mountaineering these days is speed ascents. Specifically, speed ascents of 8000 meter peaks without using supplemental oxygen. One of the few long standing goals of mountaineering that still commands respect is climbing all 14 of world’s 8000 meter peaks without oxygen. Now, in the rapidly progressing world, that isn’t enough. One has to climb these peaks faster than anyone else. Across the Himalaya recently, mountaineers have accomplished stunning, even unbelievable to most, times of ascents on these peaks. Well, how are they doing all this? Are the climbers of today just that much better than the climbers of yesterday? Is it the modern equipment and knowledge of how to climb big mountains that is enabling these speed records to happen? Are we as a human race just evolving into better mountaineers in general? Or is there something else at work here? Many of these climbers are sponsored by the biggest names in outdoor gear and apparell. They aren’t climbing these expensive mountains using funds out of their own pockets, and they aren’t training for these mountains an hour a day or so, after they get off work from their accounting jobs. They are full-time professional mountaineers. And there is nothing stopping them from using PEDs, save for their own ethical “right and wrong” belief systems.

The mountaineers of yesterday were certainly not afraid of taking amphetamines and who knows what else on their pioneering climbs. In 1953, Herman Buhl was descending from the summit of Nanga Parbat. In the darkness and exhausted with threatening weather on the way, the expedition doctor deftly gave him Pervitin, and the surge of energy helped him get off the hill alive. When Stephen Venables completed a new route on the Kangshung Face of Everest in 1988, for two days he had spent the night at over 8000 meters without food. Later he would survive an open bivouac at 8600 meters, and spent a total of 30 hours climbing alone. If not for him popping two prescription strength caffeine pills, he might not have made it as well. These are just two of many heroic deeds in the mountains venerated by mountaineers for being bold and difficult achievements, yet both took substances that an Olympic athlete would be banned for.

So what’s to stop the ordinary Joe weekend-warrior type from doing PEDs? Sure, there is a significant health risk, but many of these drugs can even be purchased online if one desires to do so.  That says to me there is a market, and somebody somewhere is keeping them in business. A friend of mine recently told me a story about how he had thrown his daughter’s boyfriend out of their house, and had found out the guy, an amateur body-builder, was using steroids. The only gain that person has from using such a pharmaceutical edge is for himself, for his own ego. So doesn’t it seem logical that a climber might also think the same way? Personally, climbing for me is finding out how far I can push myself, finding out my own limits. I don’t think of myself as a cheater, even though I’ve used diamox on more than one occasion. I’ve used ibuprofen too. Heck, right now I’m on a diet and I’m drinking a protein shake every morning. I’m getting a lot stronger, and I can tell the difference when I’m in the mountains. Where can the line be drawn? It can’t be just legal and illegal drugs, because even EPO has a legal medical use to it. The use of supplemental oxygen has long been accepted for climbing Mt. Everest. It helps one’s athletic performance at high altitude thus enabling the user who might otherwise not achieve the feat to conquer the summit. This is part of the style of the ascent, and is so listed. Perhaps all ascents should now include all pharmacological aids used, including those injested or taken during training for the event. But would anyone even care?

In the end, we can only climb the way we believe it is right to climb. I do think I’ve changed my opinion slightly on some of these amazing ascents that I’ve heard about in the past few years though. I remember too much the SF Giants announcers going on and on about Barry Bonds’ “all-new fantastic workout regimen” back in the days when I used to listen to their games on the radio. They were lying to the audience, they all knew he was juicing, but me the casual fan could never know that. Call it a casualty of our modern age, but I remain suspicious and cynical of any new mountaineering accomplishments of the 21st Century. If I were to cheat, or do something I believe to be cheating while climbing, then I would just be cheating myself. So the only real accomplishments I can respect are the ones I succeed in attaining myself. Sorry all you heroes, The Skeptic has replaced you.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Rant About Everest

Generally, books about mountaineering are not my thing. When it comes to climbing, I’m a doer - not a spectator, and I’ve always found climbing books less inspiring than other books designed to motivate the reader. Maybe this is due to the egotistical slant most mountaineering books just naturally seem to have. It’s hard to write objectively about your heroic deeds in the hills, and most of these books have the tone of an extended Summitpost trip report of self-love. But I did get my wife a couple of books recently, and it did, for once, get me thinking.

The book was “The Will To Climb” by Ed Viesturs and David Roberts, detailing Ed’s quest to climb Annapurna - and thereby finish his ‘Endeavor 8000” project, climbing all 14 of the world’s 8000+ meter peaks. What I liked about it was how he detailed all the different routes and attempts that had been attempted on the mountain over the years, and his own attempts to climb one of the deadliest mountains on earth. It also was juxtaposed  for me over the fact that at the time of year I was reading it, was the time when the climbing world is focused on Mt. Everest, as many people were following diligently the news of climbers attempting the world’s highest peak. 

This last year, 2012, some great photos of the huge traffic jams on Everest came to light via social media. I’m sure the same types of photos have been taken in years before, but maybe I just never have been hooked in to as many climbers via Facebook as I am now. These photos went viral, and displayed to everyone what Everest has really become. Phrases like “A Conga Line to the top” were tossed around, along with disparaging comments like “Pay your money and clip in” as the act of climbing Mt. Everest was really shown in a much different light than a heroic climb to the summit. Not since Krakeur’s tale of the 1996 disaster had the mountain been shown in such a derogatory manner..

Everyone is fascinated by Mt. Everest it seems. People just want to know this stuff, and more importantly, they want to find out how cheaply they can climb Everest. Also this year, like 1996 on Everest, there were a number of deaths. Several of these deaths happened on the mountain - on low-budget expeditions. While the prices of the major operators climb higher and higher, the cost-friendlier outfits still remain a popular choice. Without a strong leader (guide) many of these end up being the climbers who get in trouble, and sadly, the ones who end up dying the most, by far. It’s easy for me to say if the big companies made the climb more affordable - somehow - and took on more climbers, that these accidents could be reduced and lives saved. But it goes without saying that IMG, RMI and Himex/Russell Brice, etc are not opening their books to the public, so we have no idea what kind of profit margins they are operating on. Maybe they just break even or lose money on Everest - I doubt it, but without hard facts it is an undefendable stance to take and so I won’t take it. 

I really wish I could be like the elite mountaineers of the world, and climb for the route. The big problem with that mindset, obviously, is that I’m not an elite mountaineer. Oh, I think I could be - in my mind - if I could climb all the time and didn’t have a regular job, family or life. An endless supply of money to take me anywhere in the world I wanted to climb would help too. It is great fun to climb a more challenging route, as I have done a few times. Its these times when all the lessons you have learned come into play. They’re like an exam in school. I used to love to take tests. All the time you spend learning and practicing things in theory, during a test you finally put them to use. I bet a lot of mountaineers feel that way - the thrill of testing your abilities. It’s just too bad that the opportunities for a test only come so often for me.

I do like getting to summits. Tests are great, but they are only really cool when you get an “A”. In mountaineering, getting an A means getting to the summit. There are easy A’s and then there are A’s you have to really earn. I’m not proud, I will take an easy A quite often. It’s still an A, after all. If I ascend a mountain via the Class 2 route, and you go up the Class 4 route, we both summitted, we both are equal, at least in my mind. You can trumpet how you went up the harder route, but that only means something to people who care about that sort of thing. The truth is, the vast majority do NOT care about that sort of thing, only whether or not you got to the top. 


So most everybody else is mostly like me, that is, they want to get to the top of the mountain. They may enjoy the experience and the adventure of it, but in the end getting to the summit is the actual goal. I’ve got to think though that the method one gets to the top still must count for something to a great deal of people. When the uneducated talk about climbing Mt. Everest, a disproportionate number of them will talk about the book Into Thin Air. These conversations are always fun for me. They always say, “Hey, if you pay enough money the Sherpa will just drag you to the top.” I really don’t remember the part of the book where this happened - I did read it like everybody else. Even if you have the money, you do have to have a certain amount of physical ability and climbing acuity to make the top. So I can’t just dismiss all those hundreds of people walking in a line to the summit of Everest in those photos this year. They definitely know something about climbing, and they must possess the physical and mental fitness necessary to withstand a 2-month expedition and still have the power to keep moving up until there is no more up left to go.

But they all get 0’s for style points. There is something to be said for style. Now, besides being a climber, I also happen to be a musician. Music is an art, and all sports - climbing included - in my opinion, are forms of art. (and so is blogging *cough cough*) Now, as a musician, I can look at it this way. Do you want to make it big by playing generic, formulaic poser rock? Or do you want to be the Metallica of the mountains? Do it your own way, no compromises to anybody and damn the critics? Well, definitely then you would find me in the latter category. But does that really answer the “Why”? Well, actually I think it kind of does. I do things to be different than the norm. I truly hate the status quo. Do I admire more Unsoeld and Hornbein for climbing the West Ridge or Everest summitter #274 in 2012? These questions are easy. Among climbers maybe the routes I’ve chosen haven’t been remarkable, but amongst the general population, just going up into the mountains separates me from them.

So mountaineering to me isn’t just about the summit, also what figures into it is how you got there. I climb though at my ability. I’m not good enough to climb the West Ridge of Everest, nor am I good enough to climb a 5.14 rock climbing route. That’s why many of the mountains I’ve climbed I’ve done so by the regular (normal) or most common routes. I’m just not very good. I’m not a liar or full of myself. I’m as good as I am. I think I’m better now than I used to be, and I also think I’m improving, but I would never pretend to be a great climber. I’m just not. So for me, climbing by the common route is climbing by the most difficult route that I can also summit. Let me break this apart. Say there is a mountain. This mountain has a Class 2 (walk-up) route, but that route is 24 miles long. Also there is a Class 3 scramble route. I’ve done quite a few Class 3 scrambles, and feel confident doing them. This particular mountain also has a 5.9 face one can rock climb. My route of choice is most likely going to be the Class 3 route, that I can do in one day. It’s just within my abilities, but still challenging and most importantly - fun. I don’t want to camp, if I can help it, and long approaches are not really my thing. Rock climbing up a face? I don’t know how to do that. Most rock climbers I’ve met are kind of douchebags anyway. In this way they are similar to ski mountaineers. Is it a rule, to be a ski mountaineer you have to pass a “How to be a giant douchebag” test? But I digress...

I was on vacation when all the summit attempts happened this year, and the photos of the snake lines hit the world’s consciousness. Upon returning to work my co-workers, non-climbers all of them, asked if I had seen them. They also asked if I had heard about the deaths. Of course, I knew all about these since my wife and I follow these sorts of things. But it really illustrated to me what a joke Mt. Everest has become, to the general populace. They didn’t look at any of those throngs of folks in line as conquerors of a great mountain, or as exceptional athletes performing a daring deed. The overwhelming opinion is that these are all rich people, who bought themselves the top, and unfortunately it was so crowded up there that a few of them died. And there is absolutely no sympathy for such blatant self-centeredness, that may have cost some their lives. The world’s most expensive circus ride, complete with actual life and death consequences. A climber might read those last couple of sentences and state how untrue they are - that’s not really the point. This is the opinion people have of it, and whether you agree or not it IS the general opinion. Step outside your own head for a minute and you’ll see it’s true.

There is talk about limiting the number of climbers on Everest. Well, when each climber pays the government of Nepal $10,000 each just for the permit, not to mention the tourist dollars all bring in, and the added allure that climbers will bring in trekkers too - I scarcely think the leaders of this small country are going to put a self-limit on their cash flow. That just isn’t realistic. Many of the top companies have only so many spaces available in their expeditions, but there are so many different companies that if one fills up, a would-be climber always has other available options - there will always be someone willing to take a climber when these many thousands of dollars are at stake. (That part kind of makes me doubt that Everest Operators are losing money on all of this. Again, I have no proof, only opinion.) That means that next year, just like this year, we wil see the conga lines of crowds as seen on the Southeast ridge during the rare climbing windows that open up. Somebody else will hire a cut-rate expedition to take them to the top of the world. (But this “cut-rate” will probably represent a large sum to the person. Money is all in the eye of the beholder. For the rich man, $55,000 may not seem like a lot. For the less-rich man, $30,000 could represent his entire life savings.) They won’t listen to their sherpa leaders and since there will be no powerful leader other than the one paying the bills, they won’t turn around. Then people will die. So 300-500 more people will be able to say they climbed Mt. Everest, and then the next year it will all be repeated over again, with almost the exact same results.

Is that climbing? Is that mountaineering? If I go to my local mountain, I only spend whatever it takes me in gas to get there, plus my food and maybe a small permit cost. Then I go do some mountaineering. Maybe I want to go climb something else, something new, and so for that I have added transportation costs. Maybe I want to do something even bigger, and longer, like an expedition up a really big mountain, like Denali or Aconcagua. Now in addition to the transportation costs, I must pay for additional logistics necessary to climb the mountain, as well as higher permit costs. Still, these mountains can be climbed for well under $10,000. Heck, even a mountain such as Cho Oyu, the 6th highest in the world, can be climbed for around $15,000 depending on the company/quality of logistics chosen. So if a mountain like that can be climbed for that cost, why does Everest cost at a minimum 3 times that amount?

Somebody is getting rich here.

The veterans of Everest blame the press and media for blowing this year’s events out of proportion. Perhaps that is true, but it doesn’t change my feelings for it. Just because “crowds happen every year” on Everest doesn’t mean the argument that the mountain is overdone suddenly becomes invalid. I do respect that people who have climbed it - it’s quite an accomplishment. But that one summit does not make me respect them as mountaineers by itself. Now many, if not most of them, have also climbed several other peaks as well. That’s what makes them good or great mountaineers. There’s scores of great mountaineers who never summitted Everest but still achieved many awesome feats. There are also plenty of “climbers” who summitted Everest but I have no reason to think of them as great at what they do. They were not. To them, I respect them like I respect any other person who completed a grueling physical challenge - such as a marathon. It’s an achievement, but not necessarily a climbing achievement per se.

The Defenders of Everest also have more arguments. There is their insistence that crowds do not cause the deaths, insufficient summit days do. Solid logic, to be sure. But what are the dynamics of those summit windows, crowds, and subsequent deaths? When you pay that much money, you have to be pretty determined to get what you paid for. Most people don’t pay that kind of dough just for the experience. They are paying that much money because they want to get to the top. So when that summit window opens, what does it take for the climber who has to turn around to make that decision? Are you going to wait in line for as long as it takes?

Obviously, if the cost to climb it where less, than crowds, deaths, and summits would be even more. I really don’t care about the big picture though. I only really care about ME. And I don’t care for any of that crap.

I don’t climb for those reasons.

Everest ride at Universal Studios

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Scratching A High Sierra Itch

People plan vacations in the most exciting places. Some people plan to take their work breaks to an exotic beach location, where they can sip on intriguing drinks festooned with umbrellas as they mistakenly believe that a full suit of skin cancer is an attractive attribute. Some will plan to see an amusement park ala the Family Griswold in a cross country adventure. Others will plan to visit family members long lost and seldom seen. And then there are the people like my boss who takes his vacation fixing things around his house and staying home (some people in this world work way too many hours during the week). But these vacations are not for the folks like us. We chose instead to visit of all places Lone Pine, California and the Eastern Sierra mountains, because that’s how we roll.

I have been wanting to get back to the California 14ers for a while now. The last five summers, my wife Gineth and I have concentrated our vacation time on climbing the 58 14,000’ mountains in Colorado. But of course, we live in California, where there also happen to be 12 (really 11 by the Colorado rule of 300’ of prominence - see my  blog here - but Mt. Muir has 297’ of prominence, so pretty much you can say that is close enough, and call it a 14er. This is a complicated subject, how to figure 14ers, and if you read my previous  blog referenced, perhaps some light can be shed on the subject :~). ANYWAY.... For some time now I’ve been meaning to make a trip back to California 14er country. As far as California 14ers go, we had climbed Mt. Whitney, the highest mountain in the lower 48 states, which also happened to be our very first 14er ever when we first started climbing. We climbed Whitney then again via the more difficult Mountaineers Route in 2003, and also in 2003 we climbed White Mountain, the 3rd highest 14er in California. We then moved to the State of Jefferson in 2004, and have since summitted Mt. Shasta many multiple times. Yet moving so far north, we found ourselves far removed from the geographic location of all the rest of California’s 14ers, leaving us stuck at only 3 Cali 14ers climbed for all these years. Well, finally, the time had come to change that.

California 14ers, besides the 3 we had already climbed, are certainly not as easy to access as the majority of Colorado 14ers. The plan for our trip was to start with Mt. Langley, which I had read many people consider the “easiest” California 14er, which I felt would be a good acclimatization climb for the following peaks. The remaining part of the trip we planned to hike up to Shepherds Pass, which is thought to be the most difficult approach hike in California, and make attempts at both Mt. Williamson and Mt. Tyndall, respectively. Then, depending on how we were feeling, maybe give Split Mountain a try as a day hike. It was a truly ambitious itinerary, and in the end not one we really felt like completing. Getting to the summits was never really the goal here. We don’t have a “project” (as we like to refer to it) of climbing the California 14ers, like we do for climbing the Colorado 14ers. This trip was more about  training and preparing for this summer’s Colorado climbs that we will be doing. Many of the Colorado 14ers we will be trying this year will require the same sort of overnight backpacking approaches as these Cali 14ers do. So it was really more of a kickoff to our training regimen, being just the week before Memorial Day in May, getting us a jumpstart on the long hours of hiking we will be spending in the weeks ahead.

The first day, a half day off from work, we were able to drive from our home to as far as Bishop, California - the “big” town in the area. Arriving at night, only in the next morning did we get our first views of the grand Eastern Sierra range that towers over Highway 395. We drove the remaining 60 miles to Lone Pine that morning with one eye barely on the road and constantly looking over to the west at these majestic peaks. I had hoped we could pick up our wilderness permit and still have time to drive up to the Whitney Portal and maybe do a little day-hike up the main Whitney trail, just for old times sakes. Well, getting the permit we were reminded about the “bear problem” you have at the Portal. We had all our food for the week with us, and so taking everything up there with us didn’t seem like a wise move. We decided even though it was early to try and get our motel room for the night, as our Langley hike would not start until the following day. Unfortunately, we chose the Dow Villa. Definitely we learned later this was a mistake, the Dow Villa is no nicer than the Portal Motel across the street which is half the price, but this lesson would be learned over the week. The room wasn’t ready yet, so we decided to take the drive up to Horseshoe Meadows where the Langley hike would start, just to see the trailhead.

It always feels good to be able to see where a hike or climb starts, just for the mental preparation part of it. So it was good to get up there. We loved the “Active Bear Area” signs too, well, I loved them and Gineth... did not so much care for them. But it we were glad to see big bear boxes at the trailhead, so we knew we would have adequate space to stow our bear attractive things while we were hiking. It took about 45 minutes to get to the trailhead from Lone Pine. I don’t drive fast up curvy, windy mountain roads, especially ones without much guard railings or any other such safety measures. So by the time we got back to Lone Pine about 2 hours had elapsed.
I really wanted to get a map of the area. I didn’t need a 7 ½ minute map, just a general overview topo map of the land was all that I felt was necessary for me. Up  to this point, I had been relying on reports I had read of the conditions of the route from people who had posted on a Summitpost.org forum. I hate Summitpost, passionately, as the folks who post things on there are generally the biggest idiots on earth, but there really was no alternative, such as the 14ers.com website run for Colorado, as California just has far too many lazy and narcissistic climbers who don’t care to help anybody else climb, and just want to trumpet their own achievements. The forum I had read though had talked about a cornice on the New Army Pass route of Langley, and that the better option at this time was Old Army Pass. So to this point this was the route I thought we would go. I entered the Lone Pine Elevation store to look for the map. The very helpful gal at the counter provided the map and also a local’s perspective on my choice of route. Heck, she almost insisted we take New Army Pass and heavily warned me against Old Army Pass. So when it comes to route advice, I had to weigh the information provided by a seemingly knowledgeable local vs. a Summitposter dipshit. The choice was obvious - New Army Pass would be the route we would take.

And our room was still not ready. So much for our day hike. We decided then to go ahead and go up to the Portal, car full of food and all, and just eschew the hike part of it. It surprised me how fast we got up to the Portal, particularly in relation to how long it took to get to Horseshoe Meadows. It was also strange to me to see the Portal. This was the location of great memories for us, and somehow I think I had built it up over the years bigger in my mind than it was. In my mind, the Portal Store was this fantastic restaurant/gift shop where we had had the most delicious patty melts in 2002 after we had come down from our epic day hike of the main Whitney trail, and then again in 2003 after coming down from the Mountaineers Route I had enough state of mind to get myself a “Mountaineers Route” t-shirt. In reality, the Portal Store is quite small, with just a few shelves of shirts and other knick-knacks, and a very small board which advertises the few items of food I think they still cook there - no one in sight was eating there this day. Also, the whole Portal area was overrun with day picnickers and families. That was a sight I had never seen since we had never really been there much during the day. So illusions shattered, we bought a couple of souvenirs and then headed back to Lone Pine.

Finally our room was now ready, and we unpacked and geared up to start the following day. It wasn't urgent though. Generally, as when we are in Colorado, we prepare to start a hike or climb first thing in the early, early morning. This time, knowing that we had about a 6 or 7 mile hike to camp over primarily flat ground, there was no need for an early bird start. We went over to the Bonanza Mexican restaurant and had dinner. We were really hungry, so we ate, but the food was awful. Back at the room we had a difficult night sleeping, the air conditioner did not seem to cool the room down (it was in the 90’s during the day there, even in May) and outside our room a motorcycle group had arrived and for some reason they were out there just letting their bikes idle and occasionally revving them up. I truly don’t know what the reason for that was.

In the morning, we made our way to the Mount Whitney restaurant for breakfast. We both had the “Mount Whitney omelet” which was very, very good. The place is a little pricey I thought, ($31 with coffee and tip and the 2 omelets) but it definitely gave us a big fuel up for the day. About 10 o’clock we at last headed up to the trailhead to begin our climb. My pack felt a little light, so at first I felt good about that. Unfortunately I would later learn the reason for that was that Gineth’s pack was so heavy. Since I had been training more with a pack, it would have made sense for me to carry a lot more weight than Gina, and we corrected this discrepancy later in the week. However, this first trek took a little toll on Gina’s back and this turned out to be fairly detrimental to accomplishing what we wanted to this week.

Less than 10 minutes into the hike we ran into a group of fishermen/hikers returning to the trailhead. I asked them about the route conditions, and they confirmed to me that New Army was the more preferable way to go. So this firmly established that the person posting on Summitpost had in fact no idea what they were talking about, and cemented my route choice. We marched on the semi-sandy route and remarked how it resembled the North Gate routes of Shasta.

When you hit the first Cottonwood Lake, the view is spectacular. I have to say this is probably the only view of Langley that is really striking. I was happy to see that this early in the season the mountain was almost completely snow-free, a product of the low snow year and a  good sign since we had opted not to bring our ice axes and lessening the weight on our backs just a little. The trail was pretty easy to follow and was well-marked, at least to this point. It also lifted our spirits a little, as to this point we had no real feeling of what mountain we were climbing, our only scenery was just the pine trees in front of us (and occasional Bristlecone pine!). At last, we could see our objective.
Finally we see it, Mt. Langley
In getting the permit, one is required to put down where one’s first night will be camped. Since I had no real knowledge of the route and the best camping areas, I had put Long Lake as our night’s campsite. I asked the ranger when getting the actual permit what would happen if we decided to camp somewhere else, and she let me know that was fine, that if anything happened the site on the permit is just where they would start looking for us. So we were still feeling strong when we finally hit Long Lake.

Long Lake is very beautiful at first sight. The thing that struck me the most though was the trout. In the creek that drains out of the lake, the trout swim in the crystal clear mountain waters in plain sight. And they were so big! Not huge like a bass, but if you caught like 3 or 4 of them, you would have yourself a really good meal for sure. And they were right there and the shallow water of the creek. It was like you could just get a net out and scoop them out. For the first time in a long, long time I wished I had a fishing pole with me, just for the fun of the catch. Even Gineth, who has never expressed any interest in fishing before, told me the sight made her wish we had fishing poles with us - that’s how cool it was.

Approximately where we lost the trail around Long Lake
And just after that moment of coolness, we passed over to jumping the shark. You see, at the mouth of the creek that drains Long Lake, the trail crosses over to the southern side of the lake. However, since we saw a cool looking snowbank that was being eaten away by the creek, and the trail on the opposite side had been overtaken by snowmelted waters - we completely missed the change in direction. MISTAKE! Continuing on a fisherman’s trail on the north side of the lake, we almost immediately lost our way. Bushwacking my way through, I was certain I could make it, but that was when they struck us. By they, I mean thousands upon thousands of mosquitoes. Every shady turn lurked tons of the little pests. Soon they had us running - even with 40-lb packs - at full speed trying to swat away the little annoyances that when added together became a very big and increasingly alarming disturbance. Definitely, this would not be the lake for our campsite for the night.

Slapping the last few skeeters off of us, we finally spotted the trail - the real trail - on the other side of the lake and finished our circumnavigation of the opposite side in order to get back to it. This detour had definitely taken the wind out of our sails and we were ready to find a campsite - just nowhere near this place. We re-joined the trail finally and after losing it due to snow coverage a few more times were finally on our way again. We arrived at High Lake and soon found a flat spot for our tent. High Lake is a very pretty lake as well, but just above treeline, so it seemed much more devoid of the tiny flying gangs of insects we had encountered at Long Lake.

Mosquito & Trout Central - Long Lake
I don’t know if I was using it wrong or if it was just not working, but our Steri-pen let me down for the first time. This created a problem - there was lots of water here but it needed to be purified. So we had to break out the iodine tabs. I’d never really had to use them before, on Shasta we usually just boil the water, but putting up with a little iodine taste bothered me less than drinking hot water right now. (By the next hike we figured out the Steri-pen, or at least it started working again, and did not have to resort to the iodine again.) The Jet-Boil, which I had problems with my last climb on Shasta, on the other hand, worked as advertised and soon we had a delicious meal of Ramen noodles.
Our campsite near High Lake and below New Army Pass
Our camp was just below New Army Pass. It’s tough to see where New Army goes if you’ve never been up it. I thought I could see switchbacks up the left side of the rock wall - turns out the actual switchbacks were more directly in front of us. I could see the snow at the top, and again this made me wonder about cornices and getting shut down at the top of the route, but I had both the accounts of the local and also the fisherguys that said it was passable. We went to bed early that night, which is about all you can do when camping at 11,000+ feet.

The alarm had been set for 5:00am, but when it went off neither of us were in any mood to wake up. I hit the snooze button, but I had not set up the clock properly so it just turned off the alarm instead. I didn’t really care at first - it was really cold - but an hour and a half later when we did finally wake up, we were filled a little bit with that feeling of oversleeping a day. It was also getting hot in the tent already at 6:30 - almost 70 degrees inside - so definitely it was time to get going. So our summit day started at rather late, it ended up being about 8am before we hit the trail finally.

The short snow section at the top of New Army Pass
Soon enough climbing up the Pass I could see that where I thought the route went was incorrect. It did seem to be switchbacking up directly into the cornice of snow at top. But when we finally reached the point where the snow covered the trail and prevented us from following the switchbacks, I could see what the fisher guys were saying. The top of the pass was right there - just above about a 50 foot section of snow. If you wanted to keep following the trail, one would have to do some serious downclimbing and noodling around the drifts - definitely not worth it. We decided it was easier and quicker to just strap on our crampons - which luckily we had taken along - and go straight up the snow to reach the top. It was steep, but the crampons did their job and soon we were standing at the top of the pass.
Looking towards Langley from the top of New Army Pass
From here, finally we could see again the mountain we were here to climb. Unfortunately, it was still quite a ways away - we later figured it about 3 miles away from this point. We also had to drop down about 400’ from where we were as the top of New Army is a little higher than where Old Army comes up and the two routes converge. I knew this would suck on the hike out, but what can you do?
A rare Class 2+ section (very short)
Sand, sand, sand :(
As we neared the hulking form of Langley, we hit sand. Lots of sand. Huge sections of sand, sand, sand. It was far worse than trying to climb up the summertime talus of Shasta, in my opinion. It made me wonder about anyone who would climb Langley more than once, as opposed to people like us, who were just ticking it off a list. It’s definitely not a fun climb, and the mountain isn’t really a picturesque mountain from this view by any means. There was all too brief section of a little scrambling class 2+ ish section, but beyond that it was just a slog to the top over sandy garbage. Finally I got to what had to be the top, saw the summit register and felt some relief that this march was over. For sure, this was not going to go down as one of my favorite climbs.

The view from the top is pretty, however. From the summit, one can look out at Mt. Whitney and her neighbors, and seeing all the little high alpine frozen lakes is neat. The weather for us at the top was a windy but fair. To my surprise, when I went to send my Spot 2 signal I discovered that I did get a cell signal up here, and a few text messages rolled in. Gina was able to get a 3G internet signal with her Iphone, and she checked up on what was going on in the world since we had last left civilization the day before. (My Droid did not pick up the 3G signal, so I did not get to participate in this 21st Century summit ritual.)
On the way down back to camp

It was a long hike back to camp, and the wind started to pick up even more. Walking 6 miles round trip at over 12,000’ took a little time, as it was our first altitude of the week. We again put our crampons on to descend the little bit of snow at the top of the pass - we went a more circuitous way this time that kept us on the snow longer, but managed to finally get down on the solid trail after a few minutes.

We reached camp and I knew we had to hustle to pack out if we were going to get out before dark. This is when our late start came back to bite us. I really didn’t want to spend another night out there, and Gineth had not slept well either. It would do us both a lot of good to spend the night back in town where we could get good food, water that didn’t taste like iodine, (figure out what was going on with the Steri-pen) and sleep in the next day to get some rest for the hike that lied ahead of us (more on that shortly). So tired as we were, we packed camp and headed out. It was a long slog again, and seemed to take forever. By the time we reached the trailhead it was getting dark, as it was just after 8pm. I doubt seriously that I will ever return to this trailhead or ever climb this mountain again. Good riddance. 

Overlooking High Lake

After a day off resting our feet, we hit the next objective first thing in the morning. The Shepherds Pass trail is considered by many as one of the most difficult approaches in the Sierras. Someone on Summitpost has even posited that the makers of the trail must have been on crack. While I have no personal experience with crack cocaine (but I’m sure the writers on Summitpost are very familiar with it) I really didn’t think it was all that bad. It is a rough trail for sure, and some sections are very poorly maintained. It starts out in the wrong drainage and basically you have to climb up a small mountain to get into the correct drainage. Some of the switchbacks go on far too long in one direction. It’s a little over 8 miles to Anvil Camp, and it’s a full 11 miles to the top of the actual pass. That’s quite a haul carrying a full backpack.

So this was the original plan: Hike all the way to the top of the pass, climb Williamson one day, then climb Tyndall, then hopefully pack out. Madness. As beat up as we were I knew even before we hit the trail that this had to be modified. And then I looked at the weather report. High winds were forecasted for Friday. (I had no idea what the rest of the storm entailed, as the newscasts you get in Lone Pine are from Los Angeles, and not very localized to the area.) This would turn out to be a critical decision-maker, but in the beginning we did not know that. So our modified plan would be to hike in, camp somewhere above Anvil camp but below the Pass, so that we would at least have some protection if the high winds indeed came to fruition. From this base camp we could launch summit attempts at both mountains, one on Thursday one on Friday, then pack out on Saturday. That was the plan anyway. 

Me with my "Furious Midget"

This time I carried  the majority of the weight, correcting the mistake I had made on Langley. I’m certain I was easily packing 50+ lbs, but the backpack was well packed and proportioned so it wasn’t too bad. The bear canister was packed not in the bottom of my pack, but more towards the middle. I don’t mind carrying it, as opposed to hanging our food. The bear can keeps the food from getting smashed, and it really only adds an extra couple of pounds. Of course, on Shasta we never have to worry about this. We actually had not ever used our bear can since our last Whitney climb in 2003. I think we will get a second one for our Colorado trip this year. Had we eaten as much as we thought, it might not have been a problem. However, our appetites were low, and space became an issue. But such are the complications of hiking in the Sierras.  

Hiking in to Shepherds Pass

It took us most of the day to get up there. You really get the feeling you are hiking right up out of the desert and into the mountains on this trail, you even see cactus alongside the way! But we were in luck, this time the Steri-pen was functioning properly, and soon we had fresh cold mountain water to drink. We passed Anvil Camp and knew that was not close enough to the pass to stop, and finally found a good site near Shepherds creek at about 9.2 miles in. As we set up the tent, strong wind gusts nearly blew it down - a sign of things to come. We had brought our REI Half Dome 3-season tent. It’s a good old tent, but definitely not made for stormy weather.

Much to my surprise, I fired up my phone and saw that not only did I have a good cell signal - 3 bars! - but also had a decent 3G internet signal. Sure, first I checked my Facebook, haha, but then I put the internet to good use on looked up the weather forecast for the mountains. It was not good at all. Now they were saying 30mph winds for Thursday and 50 mph (!) winds for Friday at the summits. I still had no idea about what was going to happen with the temps, I kind of stopped looking at the wind speeds. Hoping they were going to be wrong, we settled in for the night.  

Our campsite, above Anvil Camp but below the Pass

Man, did the wind blow that night. We could hear the gusts coming like a freight train down at us, and when they hit the whole tent would shake. Neither of us got much sleep with all that racket going on. Every once in a while I would wake to silence, and I would think that maybe now the winds had stopped, but soon I would hear them ramp up again and shortly they would engulf us at our campsite.

This time, we did not make the mistake of sleeping in too late and were up early. After re-checking the forecast, Gineth and I talked about what to do. Friday still looked very bad, and I at last glanced at the NWS forecast (previously I had only been looking at mountain-forecast.com) and saw that there was actually snow in the forecast. Snow! and very cold temperatures- definitely not what I expected for a climb a few days before Memorial Day. So we made the decision that we would only try to climb Tyndall, and then pack out Friday before things got too bad. At least, that was the plan. 

At the bottom of the Pass
Gineth going up Shepherds Pass
Snow Patch at the top of Shepherds Pass 
Looking down Shepherds Pass

We headed the rest of the way up to Shepherds Pass. The pass is very steep and there was a snow couloir running up it. The trail appeared to ascend the right hand side, however, which was mostly snow-free. As we approached though, some rockfall came down from just that side. We stopped and put our helmets on, no reason to take a chance. The closer we got, I could see that someone had been here some days before and ascended straight up the couloir. While I don’t shy away from cramponing up and tackling such a task, I really wasn’t too anxious with this one. It looked very steep, and I knew that once we were on it that it would probably feel even steeper than it looked. We also had not brought our ice axes (again) and were armed only with crampons and trekking poles. We were able to get very high up the pass just following the trail, but finally reached a point where would have to cross the snow. Similar to the New Army Pass crossing, we could see if we just went straight up the snow we could reach the top much faster than traversing across and just encountering more drifts along the regular path of the route. It wasn’t hard  but again it was steep, and I really would have liked to have my axe with me, just for safety. Finally at  the top, our reward was a splendid view of Tyndall.

Our first view of Tyndall
The view to the west after ascending Shepherds Pass

The top of Shepherds Pass is extremely picturesque. Not only do you get a great scene of Tyndall, but there was a half-frozen alpine lake at the top, which lies just below a mini-bergschrund wanna be glacier. Very pretty. As we approached Tyndall closer, the view to the west opened up and the Sierras were so grandiosely displayed to us. It was an awesome photo opportunity. I thought about what a hiker along the John Muir trail must see. It must be fantastic, although I also thought about how difficult that hike would be, as my shoulders still hurt from the haul up here the day before.

Lake and bergschrund at top of Shepherds Pass

There was one big problem though. The wind was absolutely howling. We walked toward Tyndall, over the sand and talus sans trail, getting nearer to our intended route up, the North Rib. It looked snowy and icy, but not impossible, the trouble was this cold, very annoying wind that was hitting us mercilessly. We realized that ascending this way, we would be in that wind the entire way up - no good. I knew there was another route up the mountain, one that most consider a Class 2 route, over the shoulder of the mountain. So we traversed over there to see if things were any better. While the wind wasn’t hitting us as strongly over here, the route itself was crap. Loose scree and talus, nonstop it appeared for the remaining 1500’ up to the top. Reluctantly, knowing all the trouble it had been to get up here, we decided to turn around and go down back to camp, leaving the mountain untried, and knowing likely both of these mountains would go unattempted by us.

Back down at camp, the winds weren't really that strong anymore - for the moment - but I again re-checked the forecast and could see clearly that something was on its way. So we had to make a decision, either break camp and head down now, or rest and break camp in the morning. It was 1:30 in the afternoon. It had taken us 7 hours to get the 9 miles up here. It would take us about an hour to break camp I figured. So I was worried that we would not get down until after dark. I wasn’t looking forward to the stream crossings (4 of them right at the start of the trail) in the dark. But we had to make a decision. As the wind picked up a little and a few gusts hit us, we both knew that we had to get out of there. The winds atop the pass had just been a precursor, I knew, to the oncoming storm, and it was going to get worse, maybe much worse, before it got better. So we packed up and by 2:45 we were back on the trail, this time moving as fast as we could. Luckily, aside from a mile section where you have to gain about 500’, going down the Shepherds Pass trail is much easier than going up it.

We found ourselves making great time, considering how much weight we were still carrying. (Most of our supplies had gone unused, as we had prepared for 3 nights but had only spent one) We passed a forest ranger going up, and then shortly thereafter a young couple and an older hiker as well. These were the first people we had seen since leaving town the day before, we had had the whole place to ourselves. I don’t know if they knew about the storm coming in or didn’t care. I reckon they must have had a pretty tough night and following day.

By the time we had descended the final switchbacks and reached the first stream crossing, though, the storm was really, really starting to come in. We  got hit with powerful gusts, so strong they nearly knocked us off our feet - it’s rather hard to keep your balance when you get hit so strong and you are carrying a good size backpack. We started to feel even a little desperation, as we were more than ready to get the heck out of there, and we were glad the trailhead was getting closer and closer. Finally we reached our truck, a mere 4:30 since leaving camp. It was a great feeling to be driving away and safely in our vehicle, as even down here the dust was storming across the road in front of us.

We did briefly entertain still going for Split Mountain. I knew we were well-acclimatized, and probably could do it easily as a day-hike. My legs felt good and besides a little shoulder pain from the heavy pack I felt fine. The problem for me was that my feet were destroyed. Two gaping blisters on my left ankle, in addition to one on my right ankle and probably a hot-spot soon to be blister on my right toe. The next morning I stepped out of our motel room in Bishop to discover that the temperature had dropped at least 30 degrees from the summery temps we had been enjoying earlier in the week. Looking at towards Williamson, I saw a whispy cloud move over the top at a breakneck rapid speed. Man, I was sure glad we cleared off of there!

It was time to go home. We could have stayed another couple of days (and it would have cost a fortune in motel rooms - it was “Mule Days” in Bishop and rooms were going for 2X their regular prices) and still gave Split a try. But we had gotten everything we wanted to out of the trip. Although we only summited one mountain out of 4 that we “sort of” had planned, the trip was about training for Colorado, really, and not about climbing California 14ers. We have a much better idea having done this of what will be required when we go to Colorado at the end of July, and what additional things we will need or will like to have with us. Colorado’s 14ers are our project, not the California 14ers. It would be nice someday to return to Williamson and Tyndall. I still think they are do-able climbs for us. But this experience did illustrate to me the things about climbing in the Sierras I’m not so crazy about - being constantly dusty, worried about bears and other animals, the utter lack of other people out there in case of trouble, and just the general difficult access one faces when trying to climb these mountains. But I feel good about our trip. The itch to visit the Eastern Sierras was successfully scratched for the time being, and I know that I can climb elsewhere now not thinking about needing to visit the mountains of my home state, except the best one that lies just an hour from my home - the best one of all - Mt. Shasta.